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February 26 2014

Jamaican Dancehall Deported from Dominica

“You're not welcome here”. That's the message the Dominican government is sending to Jamaican dancehall artiste Tommy Lee (real name Leroy Russell), who has been prevented from entering the island, where he was scheduled to host a concert. Lee is known for his Gothic Dancehall style, which bases itself on dark subject matter. The move is the latest of several high profile immigration controversies in the Caribbean, several of which have involved Jamaican citizens. In this instance, the issues of censorship and free speech were also being widely debated on social media.

According to the Dominican authorities, Tommy Lee was considered a security threat:

‘Pursuant to advice received, government had concerns for public safety. The decision to deny entry was intended as a preemptive action and also to provide an opportunity to exhaust all efforts to clarify information received,’ the statement said.

Many religious leaders were opposed to Lee's performance, citing what they considered to be dangerous lyrics:

The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) had been calling for a boycott of the concert here, featuring Sparta, whom it claims glorifies Satan during his performances.

A spokesman for the group, Bishop Michael Daniel, speaking on the state-owned DBS radio Monday, said he was pleased that the concert did not occur as had been planned.

He said while the churches played no role in the detention of Sparta, their prayers had been answered. 

On Instagram, Lee himself posted video of his supporters in Dominica outside the police station:

Some Dominicans tweeted to show that they did not support their government's actions:

Tyrone Christopher argued that Tommy Lee's rights must be protected, whether you like his music or not:

Some Twitter users referred to the controversial Shanique Myrie case and the Caribbean Court of Justice's involvement:

On the other hand, some netizens seemed glad that Tommy Lee was denied entry:

This Twitter user was amazed – and a tad amused – that the Dominican government was getting criticized for banning Tommy Lee…

…while these were bemused by the government's justification for their action:

Some argued that Tommy Lee was ultimately to blame for his deportation:

Others were confused as to how Tommy Lee was allowed to leave Jamaica in the first place – and why he would want to go to Dominica knowing that protests against his concert were already happening:

February 22 2014

Top Chinese Journalist Criticized for Giving Birth in the US

One of China's top journalists and TV anchors, Chai Jing, has caused a stir online after she gave birth in the US, with some netizens calling her a “traitor” or a “liberal hypocrisy”.

After pictures of Chai holding a newborn baby at an airport were published online, reports surfaced that she had given birth to a daughter in the US in October 2013. Obviously, the benefit is that the child becomes US citizen.

A highly respected reporter in China, Chai is known for her sharpness, persistence and her direct, cut-to-the point interview technique. She made her name for covering the SARS epidemic in 2003 and the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.  

Chai Jing holding a newborn baby at an airport (Picture from Sina Weibo)

Chai Jing holding a newborn baby at an airport. Photo from Sina Weibo

Chai giving birth in the US has disappointed a lot of her fans, with many calling her hypocritical.   

Netizen “Tan” wrote:

我们应该明白一点,公知们抨击或批评这个生他养他的国家,不是爱这个国家而是为了有天有扑向美欧等国家怀抱的资本。什么人批评这个国家的不足才是真心的?只有永远是中国人的我们。

We should understand that these public figures attack or criticize their home country, not because they love this country but one day have the capability to embrace the United States, Europe and other countries. Which kind of people who criticize this country are more sincere? Only those who will always be Chinese.

However, a large number of people also expressed their support. Some were sad about the emigration trend among China’s middle class, calling for reflection among Chinese top leaders:

不懂怎么念燊微博达人:非常现实,高层应该反思为何这样,柴静看到未来,她有能力为自己孩子选择一个更为公平公正,制度健全的国家,别人没道理评论。想想自己有能力会不会加入美国籍就懂了。

Very realistic, higher-ups should reflect on why things like this happen. When thinking about the future, she has the ability to select a country with a more fair, equal and sound system for his child. It’s not for anyone else to comment on. If you have the ability, would you become a US citizen? Think about it and you will understand.

文人医生:自己不能改变现状,手中没有选票,为什么孩子还不能改变?柴静在哪里生孩子是自己的自由和私事。

We ourselves cannot change the status quo in this country, we do not have the votes, why can’t we make a change for our children? It’s Chai Jing’s own freedom and personal matter to decide where her child should be born.  

Commentator Liu Xuesong wrote [zh]:

个人爱不爱这个国家,最重要的不是看他把孩子生在哪里,而是看他在这个国家的公民角色中,担了多少当,做了多少有益的事。这个国家值不值得爱,倒是与这个国家的集体意识中,是否展示了大爱的包容、和谐、友善等宽厚本色,是否将注意力放在了富强、公正、文明等向上向善的追求上有关。

Whether one is patriotic or not, the most important thing is not to find out where the child was born, but to see his role as a citizen in this country, and how many good deeds he has done. Whether if it is worth it to love this country has something to do with the collective consciousness of this country, whether it shows love, harmony, friendliness and generosity and whether it focuses on the prosperity, justice and civilization.

Another netizen wrote [zh]:

有网民说,他只是希望孩子有比较正常的生活方式,无关爱国。也许,这才是为政者应该反思的问题。

Some netizens said that she only wants the child to have a more normal lifestyle, which has nothing to do with patriotism. Perhaps, this is the problem the government should reflect on.

February 20 2014

Ethnic North Korean Schools in Japan Face Ever-Hostile Situation

Koreans living in Japan‘ is a vague word glueing very different groups together under the same umbrella term. Based on their affiliation to North/South Korea and the timing of diaspora (whether it happened before/after the Japanese imperial rule during the World War 2 ear), each sub-group goes by a different name, sharing little similarities. Stark division between them is once again solidified by education system; North Koreans in Japan attend a special ethnic school that resembles ones that are in North Korea. Markus Bell, after visiting one North Korean school in Japan, wrote an extensive report on multiple threats those schools face, with some background information about the concerned ethnic group, as the financial help from their home country has been significantly reduced and also funding from the Japanese government was recently cut off. 

February 18 2014

Seeking Asylum in Australia Is ‘Getting Real Ugly’

Gary Sauer-Thompson pulls no punches in his assessment of the latest crisis at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre. It is part of the so-called Pacific Solution. In a post for his blog Public Opinion, it's getting real ugly, he calls it a

concentration camp… designed to be cruel and that asylum seekers are going to suffer. The Conservative base [in Australia] demands that the asylum seekers live a bare life–a life exposed to death.

February 16 2014

South Korea: Being Native English Teacher and Reverse Racism

Geoffrey Fattig of Jeollamite blog shares his brutally honest opinion on reverse and latent racism in South Korea, urging fellow native English teachers who under-appreciate a fairly good working condition to stop whining. Some of the highlights of his post are: 

On the whole, though, Korea is a pretty easy place to teach English, and playing that foreign card has brought far more advantages than not over the seven years I’ve been in the country. I would add though, that being a tall white guy probably has a lot to do with it.

February 11 2014

A Personal Tribute to Jamaican “Interventionist” Stuart Hall

As tributes to late Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall keep coming, Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul posts a personal and stirring acknowledgement.

Titled “A Stuart Hall-shaped hole in the universe…”, she begins by saying:

When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.

Paul chooses to share some of her own photographs in the post, which alone makes it extraordinary – snapshots of Hall with Paul herself; with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe magazine; a few pics of him both in England and in Jamaica. These are rare glimpses into the ordinary days of an extraordinary man. Paul says:

Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions.

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 - Photo by Annie Paul

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 – Photo by Annie Paul

She links to a post she wrote in November 2013, in which she reviews The Stuart Hall Project, the John Akomfrah film about him, which she hopes will be screened in Jamaica soon. In it, she says:

One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Stuart Hall, was born and brought up here, made his career in Britain, become an intellectual powerhouse there, and is virtually unknown in the land of his birth. So true what Jesus said: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Ah well.

Still, she shares links about his life and work in an effort to make “young people here realize that Jamaicans excel not only in track and field and music but also in the intellectual arena…”

Another piece of memorabilia Paul shares in the post is one of her “treasures”:

…a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum.

She ends with an upload of an interview she did with Hall, titled The Ironies of History:

The Ironies of History:An Interview with Stuart Hall by Annie Paul

The interview (read it, above) begins by quoting Professor Grant Farred of Duke University:

Such was Hall’s impact on the US, British, Euro pean and Australian academy via cultural studies, mainly through a range of essays he published during the 1980s, that by the 1990s he became one of the preeminent intellectuals in the world. In truth, because of the international rise of cultural studies, Hall came to be regarded as an academic star, an intellectual celebrity, and a philosophical guru: he became the incarnation of cultural studies, first in Britain and then in the United States, widely anointed as the spokes man for the politics – and the endemic politicization – of the popular, the theorist in the fore front of politicizing (all) identity.

In it, Paul discusses with Hall everything from immigration and deportation to dancehall music, black masculinity and homophobia. He talks about art, architecture and visual culture. He even talks about himself and his work:

I was an interventionist, my writing is interventionist ok? That is to say I write in order to intervene in a situation, to shift the terms in which it’s understood, to introduce a new angle, to contest how it has been understood before; it’s an embattled form of writing…a kind of intellectual interventionism.

This is a kind of politics in theory, because it’s interested in struggling thought – struggling in thought. Not interested in the production of pure truth, absolute truth, universal truth. It’s interested in the production of better ideas than the ones we used to have. So it’s a kind of struggle in thought, a struggle with thought and a struggle inside thought, struggle inside thinking to change the terms of reference with which we’re thinking. There’s also a politics of thought in the sense that it wants to make the ideas useful for some purpose; it wants to help people think more clearly about their situation or to help to advance nationalism in a more progressive direction or to help the world become a more equal and just place.

The image used in this post is by Annie Paul, used with permission.

China Central TV Accused of Targeting Vulnerable Women With Prostitution Exposé

State media China Central Television's (CCTV) report on the flourishing sex industry in China’s manufacturing hub Dongguan City has triggered mockery and ridicule on Chinese social media.

The 25-minute report video details the city’s rampant prostitution. Using concealed cameras, the report showed women lining up for selection by customers in hotels and karaoke bars known as KTVs, and accused local police of ignoring prostitution and allowing the industry to thrive.

After the report, a 6,000-strong force reportedly raided 12 hotels and entertainment venues, leading to 67 arrests.

Dongguan is well-known as a hub for the sex industry, with 10 percent of the population said to be employed in the industry.

The CCTV report was widely watched across China and generated large amounts of comments on social media. On microblogging website Sina Weibo, “Dong Guan” became the most researched word on February 9, 2014. Many online celebrities and netizens wrote that they thought CCTV was reporting an open secret, some even mocking that it serves as a good tourism ad for the city. Others worried that the report is only targeting vulnerable people.

Screenshot of CCTV's report on Dongguan's prostitution (from youtube)

Screenshot of CCTV's report on Dongguan's prostitution (from YouTube)

Tencent news commentator “Liu Yanwei” wrote [zh]:

中国比这类事情重要得多的新闻,从来不见央视记者正经去报道。

There is much more important news to report about in China, I’ve never seen the CCTV reporters reporting it.

Online celebrity “Wuyue Sanren” [zh] commented:

做小姐的是这个社会的弱势群体,我哪怕要曝光此事,也只会找背后的原因,不会用猎奇的手法拍下她们跳艳舞的镜头哗众取宠。一个掌控着巨大媒体资源的机构,它的使命绝对不该是如此做新闻。在你们拍下她们的艳舞之时,难道不明白这是让自己的职业蒙羞、跳了一场精神上的脱衣舞么?

Sex workers are vulnerable in this society, so even if I plan to expose the industry, I will only investigate the reasons behind it. I will not try to attract an audience and gain popularity by shooting them dancing. A huge organization of abundant media resources shouldn’t report the news this way. When you shoot them dancing, do you not understand that you’re embarrassing your own profession and doing a spiritual strip yourself?

Miracledemocracy” analyzed the stories behind the prostitution:

今天看了央视东莞扫黄的新闻,挺难受的。感想如下:1,可以好好过日子谁也不想成小姐,中国贫富差距过大。2,中国社会有选择性生育以及天天加快经济改革建设,导致男多女少以及很多人背井离乡。3,这是一个上层社会制定制度的错误与结果,却让底层人民买单

Today after watching the CCTV report, I feel very uncomfortable. Thoughts as follows: 1) Who wants to be a prostitute if they can live a good life, there’s such a huge gap between the rich and the poor. 2) Chinese society’s imbalanced gender ratio at birth; the economic reforms and construction forced many people to leave their own homes. 3) This is a mistake caused by the system made by upper society, but the people at the bottom have to pay for it.

 “Zhongguo Zuozhuan” echoed the same sentiment:

官僚社会的逼迫迫使很多人走上了这条路 反过来官僚们又假装正义对其打击。。。。。我们更需要的是扫除贪官健全体制而不是官僚人渣的假正经!

The bureaucratic society forced many people to embark on this path, on the contrary, the bureaucrats pretend to show justice by attacking these people. . . . . We need a sound system to eliminate corruption rather than fake justice!

Journalist Liu Xiangnan wrote:

在东莞事件里,我最鄙视央视的一点是,暗访时对那些女孩不打马赛克,警方今晚抓嫖的新闻里对被抓的那些女孩仍旧不打马赛克。这是无视人权与人的尊严!

I despise CCTV for not pixelating the girls in the report during their unannounced visits, same with tonight’s news about the police crackdown on the prostitutes. This is disregard for human rights and human dignity!

February 10 2014

Remembering the Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.

The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.

Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:

I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!

Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:

We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.

Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.

Rest well in peace Sir.

Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.

From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:

In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:

Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004. Photo by Annie Paul.

In a blog post that was published soon after the 2012 debut of John Akomfrah‘s film about Hall, “The Unfinished Conversation”, cultural studies professor Nick Mirzoeff wrote:

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

He commented on other revelations in the film:

It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review.

Mirzoeff continued:

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:

Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:

Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:

Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:

Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:

One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:

Akomfah's latest documentary about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project, can be viewed here. A shorter clip is here.

@cfidelmorris acknowledged the great impact of jazz music in Hall's life – specifically the music of Miles Davis:

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:

The photograph of Stuart Hall used in this post was taken by Annie Paul; uploaded by Nicholas Laughlin and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Nicholas Laughlin's flickr photostream.

February 09 2014

February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

February 02 2014

PHOTOS: Costa Ricans in the Diaspora Vote for the First Time

For the first time Costa Ricans living abroad are allowed to vote in a presidential election. From around the world, Costa Ricans have been using Twitter to report about their vote.

This time, we, the 15,000 Costa Ricans living abroad, are key, our votes might avoid a run-off.

From Costa Ricans living in Australia, the first ones to cast their vote, to the ones based in Japan, France, the United States and elsewhere, citizens are reporting about their vote with expressions full of excitement.

Stephanie reports from Washington:

I live my vote in Washington, DC.

Francisco traveled from Boston to New York to exercise his right to vote.

Francisco Delgado studies in Boston and went to New York to vote.

Also from the United States, Diego Rivera shares this picture:

I already voted!!! (Consulate of Costa Rica in Miami!)

From Brussels, Silvia Muñoz and Alexander Molina celebrate their vote:

In Brussels, the administrative capital of Europe, Silvia Muñoz Solano and Alexander Molina López voted.

All the way from China, a young woman from Cartago reports her vote:

Sofía Hernández, from Cartago, voted in China. The poll station in Beijing ended the day already.

And Adolfo Chaves reports from The Hague, Netherlands:

My vote in The Hague.

More pictures and reports on the hashtags #VotoExteriorCR [vote abroad Costa Rica], #EleccionesCR [election Costa Rica] and #VivoMiVoto [I live my vote].

January 26 2014

Cries of Discrimination as Israel Detains Illegal African Immigrants

La grève des immigrés africains  à Tel-Aviv

Screenshot of African immigrant demonstrators in Tel-Aviv via Zahi Shaked on YouTube 

About 30,000 undocumented Africans living in Israel [fr] mounted a three-day strike and a series of protests backed by human rights defenders in early January against an act that allows Israeli authorities to place illegal immigrants in detention without any trial nor case review for up to a year.

Aside from the new law, approved on December 10, 2013, protesters denounced the refusal of Israeli authorities to consider their applications for refugee status as well as the detention of hundreds of them. The video below highlights the scale of events and presents protesters demands:   

The Holot detention centre in the Negev desert, near the border between Israel and Egypt, already has received numerous inmates since December 2013.

The site irinnews.org offered an idea of the centre's capacity

Holot can house 3,300 migrants and is set to expand, eventually reaching a capacity of between 6,000 and 9,000 people, according to Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister.

The anti-illegal African feeling has reached alarming levels, fed by hate speech, such as the “Le sentiment” video published by Djemila Yamina. The video shows Israeli citizens stating in a public gathering that illegal immigrants are “psychopaths, scum and manure that need to be expelled from our country”

Elsewhere, minority extremist groups have attacked immigrants. In Israel, the government and the judiciary systems are taking an active part. Previously in July 2012, Allain Jules condemned [fr] on his blog:

 Ce qui se passe en Israël actuellement est indigne. Entre un ministre qui demande que les clandestins soient simplement assassinés, puisqu’il recommande qu’on tire sur eux au moment où ils tenteront de franchir les frontières, un autre qui parle du risque d’impureté future de l’État d’Israël qui doit garder son caractère juif 

What is going on in Israel is shameful. Between a minister demanding that illegal immigrants are simply assassinated, suggesting we shoot at them at the very moment they try to cross the borders, and another minister that talks about the risks of impurity for the future state of Israel that must retain its Jewish character

Racism was apparent even before the new law. On July 18, 2013, Darfuri asylum-seeker and actor, Babaker (Babi) Ibrahim was arrested simply for not having a receipt for his bicycle.

Jean Shaoul explained [fr] the reality for asylum seekers in Israel on his blog cameroonvoice.com: 

En vertu de la loi israélienne, il est interdit aux immigrés de travailler tant qu'ils ne sont pas enregistrés comme demandeurs d'asile. Ce qui leur est pratiquement impossible. En effet, selon l’agence des Nations unies pour les réfugiés, alors que le taux de reconnaissance national moyen des demandeurs d’asile est de 39 pour cent, en Israël ce taux est inférieur à 1 pour cent. En Israël, la plupart des demandeurs d’asile sont des Erythréens et des Soudanais qui connaissent un taux de reconnaissance international moyen de 84 pour cent et de 64 pour cent respectivement.

By virtue of the Israeli law, work is prohibited for immigrants as long as they are not registered as asylum seekers. Which is virtually impossible for them. In effect, according to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while the national average recognition rate for asylum seekers is 39 percent, in Israel this rate is lower than 1 percent. In Israel, the majority of asylum claimants are Eritreans and Sudanese, that have an international recognition rate of 84 percent and 64 percent respectively.

 In a post published on a Mediapart blog, JOSEPH AKOUISSONNE [fr] wrote:

Ce racisme est incompréhensible de la part d’un peuple qui a souffert de l’abjection nazie, avec sa cohorte d'actes odieux visant à l'extermination des juifs. Pourtant, c'était bien Madame Golda Meir qui proclamait que  : « …les Africains et le peuple juif partagent des points communs. Ils ont été victimes de l’histoire : morts dans les camps de concentration ou réduits en esclavage… » Dans les années 1960, l'état d'Israël avait tissé des liens très forts avec le continent noir. Des étudiants africains étaient accueillis dans les kibboutz. Inversement, nombreux étaient les Israéliens qui allaient en Afrique pour soutenir le développement des états fraîchement indépendants. Il faut aussi rappeler le combat des juifs sud-africains, aux côtés de Nelson Mandela dans sa lutte contre l’apartheid. Sans oublier ceux qui s’engagèrent avec les militants des Droits Civiques aux États-Unis.

This racism is incomprehensible coming from people who have suffered under the Nazis, with its cohort of heinous acts aimed at Jewish extermination. Nevertheless, it was Golda Meir who proclaimed that:  “… Africans and Jews share common points. They have been victims of history, who died in concentration camps or have been enslaved… “. In the 1960s, the Israeli State forged strong links with the African continent. African students were welcomed into the kibbutz. Vice versa, there were plenty of Israelis who were involved in supporting the development of the newly enacted independent states. It is worth mentioning too the struggle of South African Jews alongside Nelson Mandela in the strife against apartheid. Not to forget those who engaged with the Civil Rights activists in the United States.

What is it about illegal immigration that provokes so much hatred in Israel? In response, JOL Press site presents figures [fr] from the Freedom 4 Refugees Association:

“Environ 50 000 demandeurs d'asile et réfugiés africains vivent aujourd’hui en Israël. Nous avons fui la persécution, les forces militaires, la dictature, les guerres civiles et le génocide. Au lieu d'être traités comme des réfugiés par le gouvernement d'Israël, nous sommes traités comme des criminels » explique Freedom4Refugees. ”Nous réclamons l’abrogation de la loi, la fin des arrestations, et la libération de tous les demandeurs d'asile et les réfugiés emprisonnés”, ont encore déclaré les réfugiés dans une pétition relayée par l’association Freedom4Refugees. Principalement d'origine soudanaise, sud-soudanaise et érythréenne, les manifestants demandent également que les demandes d'asile soient effectuées de “manière individuelle, équitable et transparente ”.

“Approximately 50,000 asylum seekers live currently in Israel. We fled persecution, military forces, dictatorship, civil wars and genocide. Instead of being treated as refugees by the government of Israel, we are being dealt with as criminals,” explained Freedom4Refugees. “We demand that the law be revoked, the end of arrests, and the release of all asylum seekers and refugees imprisoned,” the refugees declared in a petition communicated by the Freedom4Refugees Association. Mainly Sudanese, South Sudanese and Eritrean demonstrators further demand that asylum applications are made “in an individual, fair and transparent way”.

Al Monitor website noted the discriminatory character of measures taken against African immigrants:

At the same time, however, there are some 93,000 “tourists without valid visas” in Israel, about half of them from the former Soviet Union. Needless to say, the government is not building special detainment centers for them. The number of people requesting asylum is also significantly lower than the number of legal guest workers in Israel (approximately 70,000), much to the relief of those companies that arrange to bring them to the country and employ them.

There has been striking indifference at an international level. In an article published on Rue89, Renée Greusard disclosed everyday racism against Israel's black population:

Quand nous abordons ce sujet ensemble, David Sheen, le journaliste américain, pèse ses mots et parle plus lentement :

“Le niveau de racisme actuel en Israël, il peut être comparé à ce qu’on a connu dans d’autres pays occidentaux, il y a cinquante, soixante ans. Les gens se font insulter dans la rue. Souvent, quand les Noirs entrent dans les bus, les gens se bouchent le nez, bloquent les places à côté d’eux, ouvrent les fenêtres, pestent : “Ah ! Mais on n’a pas besoin de tous ces Noirs !”

Dans les autres pays, les gens sont gênés par leurs pensées racistes. Ils ne les disent pas en public. Là, non. C’est un racisme assuré, et dont les gens sont fiers. “

When we address this issue together, American journalist David Sheen weighs his words and talks slowly: 

“The current level of racism in Israel can be compared to what has been experienced in other Western countries 50, 60 years ago. People are insulted in the streets. Often when blacks board buses, people would plug their noses and block the seats near them, opening the windows while ranting ‘Ah! But we don't need all these blacks!' 

In other countries, people are embarrassed by their racist thoughts. They do not divulge them in public. Here, not quite. They are confident and proud on their racism.”

These anti-black sentiments can be observed even from the comments published on blogs and online media such as  lemonde.frseneweb.com and tempsreel.nouvelobs.com.  

These types of comments frequently arouse passions on both sides of the issue. An article by Jack Guez on Yahoo News has received 2,410 comments, and many of these comments have in turn attracted plenty of “likes”. The comment below has received 82 favourable opinions

People criticize Israel but no one says a thing about Saudi Arabia, why? 

Saudi Arabia expelled 200,000 Africans a few weeks ago!

The death of Ariel Sharon brought the protests and strike to a temporary halt for a few days. However, the struggle of the undocumented migrants in Israel continues. After marching outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as other foreign embassies in Tel-Aviv, protesters have held demonstrations in front of The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the government continues to herald sluggish proposals.

Brazil's Evolving Relationship With Refugees

Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, November 2012. Photo from UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, November 2012. Photo from UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Despite the sparse knowledge of the Brazilian population on the issue of refugees, the question of war is always present. It will astonish no one to say that we live in an era of generalised conflict around the world. In contrast to the two Great Wars of the last century, in which blocs of countries confronted each other generating mass displacements of populations, today we see numerous conflicts scattered all over the globe.

But to what extent can conflicts in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East affect societies to whom these problems are distant and alien? The answer to this question can be found with refugees and immigrants, who end up the responsibility of nations other than those from where they originated.

Fleeing war and poverty  

Refugee and immigrant: two terms which are generally confused. The difference between them is basically juridical. For refugee, we quote here the definition used by Brazil's National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) [pt], linked to the Ministry of Justice in Brazil:

Será reconhecido como refugiado todo indivíduo que:
I – devido a fundados temores de perseguição por motivos de raça, religião, nacionalidade, grupo social ou opiniões políticas encontre-se fora de seu país de nacionalidade e não possa ou não queira acolher-se à proteção de tal país;
II – não tendo nacionalidade e estando fora do país onde antes teve sua residência habitual, não possa ou não queira regressar a ele, em função das circunstâncias descritas no inciso anterior;
III – devido a grave e generalizada violação de direitos humanos, é obrigado a deixar seu país de nacionalidade para buscar refúgio em outro país.

A refugee is a person who:
I – finds themselves outside of their country of nationality as a result of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group and who cannot or does not wish to seek protection from that country;
II – is without nationality and is outside of their country of previous habitual residence, and cannot or does not wish to return to this country as a result of the circumstances described in the previous section;
III – as a result of serious and widespread human rights violations, is forced to leave their country of nationality to seek refuge in another country.

“One refugee without hope is too many”. Campaign image from World Refugee Day (20 June 2011). Photo from the United Nations – Armenia on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The blog Citizenship and Professionality [pt] gives an idea of how citizens, in this case Portuguese, understand immigration and emigration, explained here by readers Helder Monteiro and Helder Ribeiro:

A emigração é o acto e o fenómeno espontâneo de deixar o seu local de residência para um país estrangeiro.
A imigração é o movimento de entrada, permanente ou temporário e com a intenção de trabalho e/ou residência, de pessoas ou populações, de um país para outro. A imigração em geral ocorre por iniciativa pessoal, pela busca de melhores condições financeiras.

Emigration is the spontaneous act and phenomenon of leaving one's place of residence for a foreign country.
Immigration is the inward movement of people or populations from one country to another, permanently or temporarily, with the intention of working or residing. Immigration generally occurs by individual initiative, as a result of a search for better economic conditions.

In the case of Brazil, as in other countries, it is the Constitution [pt] which defines the legal status of foreigners who become Brazilian. Chapter III “On Nationality” clearly defines who has the right to naturalisation: “Foreigners of any nationality, resident in the Federal Republic of Brazil for more than 15 consecutive years and without criminal convictions, on the condition that they request Brazilian nationality”.

Therefore, superficially speaking, whereas refugees are forced to leave their countries as a result of conflict and persecution, emigrants leave voluntarily in search of more favourable working conditions to support their families. Examining the issue in more depth, the juridical question presents itself in the following manner: refugees have their status determined initially by the United Nations, whose asylum request is then judged by the receiving country; yet immigrants are subject solely to the laws of the country which receives them, without external interference.

Refugees in Brazil: number and profile

Flight, Milan Dusek. Art and Refuge in Brazil: a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen. Image shared by UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Flight, Milan Dusek. Art and Refuge in Brazil: a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen. Image shared by UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, at the end of 2012 there were around 15.4 million refugees in the world. Of this number, Brazil was providing refuge to around 4,656 at the end of 2013 [pt]. This number is alarmingly small in comparison with the country which takes in the highest number of refugees, Pakistan, with around 1.6 million people.

However, although the numbers themselves are still small, proportionally speaking the number of refugees practically tripled from 2012 to 2013, from 199 authorisations to 649, according to an article re-published on the blog ‘Lajes do Cabugi’ [pt].

This is the result of external pressure placed on Brazil by NGOs, and even other countries, which demand that the discourse portraying the country as a third-world nation – with insurmountable internal problems to worry about – should be abandoned. For this reason and others, a national debate on making the laws governing this issue more flexible arose last year. In the same vein, since the number of people displaced by conflicts around the world has practically doubled since 1990, the country has assumed more external responsibilities and has consequently received more refugees.

The most striking example is that of Syrians who seek asylum in Brazil. Given the bloody civil war in Syria, the Brazilian government recently announced a plan to grant special “humanitarian visas” for Syrian nationals who seek refuge in Brazil – the first initiative of its kind in Latin America – which will be more quickly delivered than the usual waiting time for this kind of document. Moreover, the humanitarian visas can be extended to relatives of the refugee who are living in countries that neighbour Syria.

The blog “O Estrangeiro” (The Foreigner) [pt] describes the evolution in numbers of Syrian refugees in Brazil:

O Brasil tem sido um destino cada vez mais recorrente dos cidadãos sírios que tentam escapar da guerra civil que abala o país há mais de dois anos, agravada pela possível intervenção militar dos Estados Unidos. Desde o início dos conflitos, em março de 2011, o número de refugiados sírios no Brasil saltou 15 vezes: foi de 17 para 261. Eles já correspondem a 6% do total de refugiados no país.

Brazil has become an increasingly recurrent destination for Syrian citizens trying to escape the civil war which has hit the country for over two years, aggravated by possible military intervention by the United States. Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, the number of Syrian refugees in Brazil increased 15 times over: from 17 to 261. They already comprise 6 percent of the total number of refugees in the country.

Remaking Brazil's image in the eyes of the world

Brazil's ambitions to become a member of the UN Security Council, along with an increase in its participation in global governance, have given rise to an unavoidable dilemma: passivity without risk or taking responsibility for issues which were unfamiliar to the country until recently. This new positioning implies an increase in the number of troops sent abroad on missions under the mandate of the UN and participation in organisations such as the advisory body of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), to which the country awaits its admission once a donation of 6.5 million US dollars has been ratified.

The debate on refugees in Brazil promises to be exciting. It will bring foreign refugees face to face with Brazilian refugees. Yes, they do exist: They are the inhabitants of the slums known as “favelas” subjected to the violence of drug traffickers and corrupt police, and migrants from the poorest states in the country who accept jobs akin to slavery in the larger cities to escape the absolute misery of their villages, among others. Both realities have much in common, and if they were observed closely by the congress members, they would notice that in many corners of Brazil the situation is very similar to that experienced by the people of Palestine or South Sudan. 

January 20 2014

Photos: Chinese New Year Holiday Travel Rush

The Spring Festival, or lunar new year, is China's most important holiday for family reunions. According to The Ministry of Transportation, around 258 million train trips are estimated to be made during this year's Spring Festival, which runs from January 16 to February 24.

China's news website iFeng.com shows images of people sleeping on the ground of the train stations while waiting for the train. Most of them are migrant workers who can't afford a hotel.

Photo from ifeng.com

Photo from ifeng.com

 

January 19 2014

Haiti, D.R.: Stateless in the Dominican Republic

jmc strategies blogs about the issue of Haitian statelessness in the Dominican Republic, specifically addressing anti-Haitian sentiment, questionable labour and living conditions, and forced repatriations, while offering solutions to the impasse.

January 14 2014

Another Indonesian Maid Tortured in Hong Kong

Erwiana Sulistayaniangsih, a foreign domestic helper from Indonesia, was found severely injured in the Hong Kong airport when she returned home last week on January 10. She told her fellow maid on flight that she was beaten and tortured for months but too scared to report the case to the police. She was hospitalized soon after she arrived and the case was exposed. More from Hong Wrong.

Erwiana Sulistayaniangsih, a foreign domestic helper from Indonesia, was found severely injured in the Hong Kong airport when she returned home last week on January 10. She told her fellow on flight that she was beaten and tortured for months by her employer in Hong Kong but was too scared to report the case to the police. She was hospitalized soon after she arrived and the case was exposed. More from Hong Wrong.

January 13 2014

No Pants Subway Ride Day in Hong Kong

January 12 was set as the 2014 No Pants Subway Ride Day. The annual fun day originated from New York 13 years ago and entered Hong Kong in 2013. Yesterday was the second annual gathering in this city.

January 07 2014

A Russian Sex Slave's Suicide in Astrakhan

Galia Borisenko before her disappearance and suicide. Text reads,

Galia Borisenko before her disappearance and suicide. Text reads, “Not the last victim…” alluding to rumors that North Caucasians operate a sex slave ring in downtown Astrakhan. (Image circulated anonymously online.)

Galia Borisenko disappeared in mid-July last year on her way to a doctor’s visit. She was three-months-pregnant, 23-years-old, and it was the day after her wedding. No one would see Borisenko again until January 1, 2014, when she suddenly turned up at her grandmother’s apartment, gaunt, childless, and disoriented, and claiming to have survived almost six months as a sex slave, chained to a radiator in someone’s basement. Borisenko said the men who kidnapped her were from the Russian North Caucasus, and some reports [ru] identify a nameless “50-year-old Dagestani man” as the owner of the home in which she says she was imprisoned.

Police told [ru] the newspaper Komsomolskaia Pravda that narcotics use had impaired Borisenko’s mental state. (Indeed, she was unable to lead them to the basement where she was held, though investigators did accompany her to several different suspected locations.) According to Borisenko, her captors forced her to inject drugs to keep her incapacitated.

In what proved to be a dreadful mistake, Borisenko’s relatives decided not to admit her to a hospital, following her return. Subsequently, in the middle of the night on January 5, Galia Borisenko leapt to her death from the fifth story of her apartment building. It remains unclear whether she had a psychotic episode or consciously decided to kill herself. She did not leave a note.

Borisenko’s disappearance and now suicide have become the center of a tense debate about kidnappings in Astrakhan, which many locals blame on North Caucasian immigrants. Groups like the Nationalist Socialist Initiative and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration have picked up the story, citing Borisenko’s demise as the latest example of race crimes against white Russians and the authorities’ refusal to respond. (Borisenko was half-Tatar, half-Ukrainian, by blood.)

Astrakhan investigators seem to have only aggravated ethnic tensions with a January 6 press release [ru] refuting Borisenko’s claim that she’d been abducted. Investigators now say they have witnesses and security camera footage verifying that she walked Astrakhan’s city streets freely during her supposed imprisonment. Without going into any detail, the press release explains that Borisenko’s long disappearance from home was the result of “the circumstances of her personal life,” implying presumably that she fled her family either out of fear or in search of drugs.

Astrakhan bloggers have received the Investigative Committee’s version of events with great skepticism. According to local activist Alexandr Alymov, certain city officials contacted him [ru] within hours after he first blogged about Borisenko’s suicide and kidnapping, asking him to remove the story from his LiveJournal. Other bloggers have mocked Astrakhan’s Governor, Aleksandr Zhilkin, for calling on citizens to avoid fomenting ethnic hatred. “Let’s continue to practice tolerance, fellow citizens,” LiveJournal user Andrei Egorov wrote [ru] facetiously on January 6, before offering a link to investigators’ press release and adding, “Here’s the Investigative Committee’s tolerant version [sic]. Personally, I don’t believe it.”

The National Socialist Initiative (a right-wing group, if you didn’t guess) claims that the police’s refusal to acknowledge Borisenko’s story is part of a larger trend [ru] to conceal North Caucasians’ ethnic crimes against Russians. According to NSI, Russian law enforcement often “blames the victim” in order to hide news about crimes committed by certain ethnic minorities. NSI says police and journalists have been involved in defaming individual Russians and entire Russian communities victimized by North Caucasians, dating back as far as the 2007 race riots in Kondopoga.

Of course, not everyone sees in Borisenko’s tragedy a conspiracy to oppress whites. LiveJournal user and Astrakhan resident hren_morjov was willing to entertain investigators’ conclusion that no kidnapping ever took place. He calls attention to several inconsistencies [ru] in Borisenko’s story. For instance, why did she reappear at her grandmother’s in Rastopulovka, “the asshole of the world” (a village some distance outside Astrakhan), rather than walk home to her parents and husband (who were only two hours from downtown)? hren_morjov also finds it puzzling that Borisenko’s family elected to keep her out of the hospital after she supposedly endured more than five months being drugged, beaten, and starved. “Any normal husband and parents,” he argues, “would have carried his wife or their daughter to the hospital, and waited outside the door until everything had been checked out.”

As recently as autumn last year, Astrakhan’s Investigative Committee has cautioned against the online dissemination of horror stories about North Caucasian kidnappers. In an August 3, 2013, press report [ru], investigators even warned against attributing Borisenko’s disappearance to a secret sex slavery ring. At the time, investigators attributed the rumors to “teenage girls who don’t possess reliable information,” who “create a panic” in the process of trying to warn Astrakhan’s women about monsters from the south.

January 06 2014

Christmas in the Puerto Rican Diaspora

To mark the end of the “official” Christmas season in Puerto Rico, we share some links to the online magazine La Respuesta, which focuses on gathering the experience of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States, about some thoughts regarding Puerto Rican Christmas traditions by two authors living in the diaspora.

Yessenia Flores Díaz, in her post “Preparando para las Navidades en la Casa de Abuela,” remembers her Christmastime experiences during her childhood while growing up in Brooklyn, New York, when visiting her grandmother's apartment:

You can only imagine the energy inside my abuelita’s tiny two-bedroom apartment during this time of year, the beginning of Advent, when she received her offspring and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring.  My family is huge and to give you an idea, my dad is number 17 of 19 children born to Felix and Regina Flores (en paz descanse) in rural Puerto Rico [...].  Yes, you read that correctly.  It is not a typo.  I come from a large, loving family.

Dorian Ortega, in her post “My Acculturatd Chrismas: An Introduction to Acculturated Stress and Cultural Buffers,” explains the ways that Puerto Rican immigrants have dealt with acculturated stress provoked by suddenly having to live in a culture quite different from theirs. One of thos ways is by holing on to their Christmas traditions:

Puerto Ricans have immigrated to the U.S. for over 60 years and for the first time in this century, outnumber the population in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans continue to rank highest among Latina/os for mental illnesses and have experienced their share of acculturative stressors. However, studies show that a strong cultural identity and adaptability serve as great protective buffers. My family, like many others, have found ways to hold on to our traditions brought by our ancestors and adapted them for the generations raised in a country with both similar and conflicting values. The holidays have served as a way to relate to one another and bring peace, which helps in times of distress.

#ShamlesslyHaitian on Haiti's Independence Day

January 1st is special for Haitians not only because it is the first day of the new year but also because it the date Haiti declared its independence. To commemorate Haiti's 210th anniversary of independence, Bertin Louis (@MySoulIsInHaiti) started the hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian as a way for Haitians to express pride and educate others about their history and culture. Global Voices spoke to Louis to find out more about the hashtag and his academic work.

Global Voices (GV) : Let us know more about your background.

486882_10151399159407592_721448874_nBertin Louis (BL) : My name is Dr. Bertin M. Louis, Jr. and I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee.  I am also the son of Haitians who migrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Growing up in Staten Island, New York I didn’t really identify with my Haitian heritage until I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate studies. In the first semester of my junior year, I took a course called “Caribbean Society Since Independence” taught by Dr. Horace Campbell, a Political Scientist of Jamaican descent and a Pan-Africanist. The first book we read was “The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution” by Trinidadian labor historian C.L.R. James. The book had a deep impact on me. When something has a big impact on you, we say in Haitian Creole “Li frape m fò (literally “it hit me hard”). To know that the only successful slave revolt in human history was part of my heritage made me confident in who I was, at the time, and I became more interested in studying more about Haitian history and culture. It really put on the path that I am on today researching and studying the Haitian diaspora and Haiti.

GV:  Were you born in Haiti or are you part of the diaspora? How much of a difference do you think it makes?

BL: I am part of the diaspora who was born in the United States. This makes a big difference because I live in the Colossus of the Western Hemisphere, which has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, I currently study religion (Evangelical Protestantism) and statelessness in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas. I interviewed many Haitian migrants as well as their children, who were trying to find a way to live in the United States, where they had family and better prospects for employment and better opportunities to lead dignified lives. My American citizenship is a privilege that they don’t have. Since I am in a privileged position, as a University professor and an American citizen, I feel that it of utmost importance to use my voice, to use my privilege to speak up on the behalf of those whose voices are silenced, like Haitian migrants and their stateless children in the Bahamas, in order to draw attention to their plight. So it makes a big difference as to where I was born because if I was born in the Dominican Republic, I would be stateless and unable to take advantage of the opportunities I currently benefit from as an American citizen.

 

GV: Could you please tell us something about your academic area(s) of interest?

BL: My teaching and research interests span the African diaspora and I interrogate the concept of diaspora through my transnational study of the Evangelical Protestant movement among Haitians in the Caribbean (Haiti and the Bahamas) and the United States.  Specifically, I combine multi-sited ethnographic research (in the United States, Haiti, and the Bahamas) with a transnational framework to analyze the practice and growth of Evangelical Protestantism in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas.  This research has resulted in my first book, My Soul is in Haiti: Migration and Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas,” which will be published by New York University Press in 2014.

My next research project is about stateless Bahamians of Haitian descent, sometimes referred to as “Haitian-Bahamians.” Statelessness refers to an individual who is not considered as a national by any state and affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide.  Stateless people do not have a country that they can call their own, lack access to basic political and social rights, such as the rights to vote, marry, and own property, and are also denied access to employment, educational services, and health care. My research will produce a book and articles that should advance theory in citizenship, diaspora, human rights, and statelessness studies and contribute to current Bahamian public policy debates.

GV: What particularly inspired you to create this hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian?

BL: On December 21st, I participated in a hashtag called #ShamelesslyCaribbean and people tweeted interesting and funny comments about the shared experience of being Caribbean/being of Caribbean descent. As the days drew closer to Haitian Independence Day (January 1), I thought about doing #ShamelesslyHaitian to draw attention to Haiti, which is not respected by other nations, and people of Haitian descent, who are not treated like human beings in other nations, as the Dominican Republic’s recent court ruling demonstrates.

Much of the news we learn about Haiti and Haitians is wholly negative. We learn on the news that Haiti is in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with no explanation of how it got that way in the first place. Haitians are denigrated, excluded, and, in some cases, criminalized in the Bahamas, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the United States (remember the AIDS crisis in its early years in the U.S. and Haitians were one of the 4Hs identified by the CDC as HIV-carriers?). And I thought that there was some potential in creating and circulating a hashtag that gave people of Haitian descent, and their allies, the opportunity to present a different and informative narrative about Haiti and Haitians, that didn’t focus on natural disasters, coup d’etats, governmental instability, stark poverty, AIDS, etc.; a narrative that celebrated Haitian achievements, recuperated the importance of the Haitian Revolution to humanity, and also as a way to educate people about a place and a diaspora that has been grotesquely distorted, demonized, in some cases, in Western history and Western media.

So I floated the idea of contacted some people of Haitian descent to some Twitter friends, asked them if they would participate, and chose the 210th anniversary of Haitian independence to launch #ShamelesslyHaitian at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time.

GV: What has been the impact of social media on the issues you are most concerned about?

BL: I find that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer opportunities to learn about issues that are important to me. It’s also a way to be part of a larger community, albeit virtual, based on similar interests and ideas, as these Twitter hashtags demonstrate.

GV: What is your reaction to the way the hashtag took off? Were you surprised by the way it grew? What does it tell you about the Haitian Diaspora?

BL: I was hoping for some participation with the hashtag and I am glad that it took off in the way that it did. I was mildly surprised but not shocked by its popularity. Based on my research and work in the Haitian diaspora, there’s a sameness of experience, a similarity of experience among people of Haitian descent that forces them to draw on their heritage in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Many tweets dealt with being proud to be Haitian despite the discrimination and teasing kids in the Haitian diaspora experienced growing up.

I think the popularity of the hashtag demonstrates that whether it is in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Haiti, or anywhere else we find Haitians, 210 years after Haitian independence, after the Haitian Revolution, Haitians are still trying to lead dignified lives and that they are struggling to do so.

 

The image in this post is courtesy of Bertin Louis.

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